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Ladder 49 (2004)
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Review Date: September 29, 2004
Director: Jay Russell
Writer: Lewis Colick
Producers: Casey Silver
Actors:
Joaquin Phoenix as Jack
John Travolta as Chief Kennedy
Jacinda Barrett as Linda
Plot:
This movie follows the life of young man who starts off as a rookie firefighter, but grows up to be a grade-A asshole. Just kidding...just wanted to make sure that you were paying attention. He actually grows up to be a great fireman, meeting the woman of his life along the way, having kids, enjoying a few drinks, etc... But alas, being a firefighter is a tough business and problems will occur. A movie about a fireman who has problems with his job...ensues.
Critique:
I liked this film. It's nothing extraordinary, it essentially follows the standard rule-book when it comes to movies of the sort, introducing us to the "rookie" among the veterans, showing us all of the pranks they play on him, how things get "serious" after a while, the job becomes more of the focus, etc and so forth. It also injects a typical "romance" in there, meeting a loved one at the supermarket, falling in love, drinking (not necessarily in that order), getting married, kids...all that jazz. There isn't much in this movie that we haven't really seen before (other than that shot of Travolta's penis...no reason for that), but even those more-or-less predictable films can have an effect if: 1) the actors/characters pull you into their game and 2) the subject at hand is an interesting one. In this case, I jumped into Joaquin Phoenix's lap from frame one and was along for his ride the whole way (now that I re-read that last sentence, well...it sounds sorta funny), and really appreciated the whole firefighting angle too, especially when I started to consider the greater altruistic value that these folks contribute to society, as opposed to bums like myself who sit in front of a computer all day and moan and groan about movies and shit. Bah...I need to get a better job or at the very least, start drinking again. Sorry folks, it must be that time of month. Honestly though, I appreciated the friendships and camaraderie that was developed among the men in this film, and despite falling into a routine of sorts after a while (go to fire, save people, drink, hang out with chicks, rinse & repeat), really liked how the director structured the film so that we were essentially following two storylines at the same time, both of which helped strengthen our bond to the other (while cutting away at just the right times).

The actors were also solid, particularly Phoenix, who if you hadn't noticed before, is really turning a "leading man" actor of sorts. He was perfectly cast as the man to whom the audience needed to relate here, and particularly impressed me with his range in this film. Travolta's role was a lot smaller than I thought, but it was a good move on his part, and well acted. Robert Patrick was also memorable as the hard-nosed fireman with the Fu-Manchu moustache to prove it, and Jacinda Barrett came through as Phoenix's wife. Good show. The film's opening was also particularly well manufactured, with just the right amount of tension and believability, as were all of the other "action" fire sequences. The film did go a little overboard on the "pranks" around the firehouse though (we get it, these guys have a lot of time on their hands) and I certainly would've liked to have gotten to know some of the other dudes a little better (Hernandez's part was almost like a "walk on"), but Phoenix's part was well developed enough for me to hang in there with him the whole way. As for the film's dour ending, well...I'm generally a big fan of movies that dare to end on a less-than-happy-go-lucky note, but in the case of this film - more of a commercial vehicle - I didn't think it worked as well as it might have otherwise. All in all, I think that Phoenix really comes through as the lead in this film which features a good balance of humor/drama/action and pays tribute to the brave work that firefighters continue to perform on a daily basis. It's not an "upbeat" movie per se (other than those great scenes in Looney's Irish Pub!), and it's not going to win any points for originality, but it was entertaining and I enjoyed it. Maybe you will too.
(c) 2016 Berge Garabedian
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